Ngorongoro Crater Should Be Your First Safari!
The Ngorongoro Crater is the astonishing highlight of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is one of holiday destinations that is a UNESCO World Heritage designated site. The crater can be found 180 kilometres or 110 miles west of Arusha, in what is known as the Crater Highlands zone of beautiful Tanzania. It’s described as being nature’s own Eden.
Ngorongoro Crater – How did it become the world’s largest inactive caldera?
The location takes its name from the Ngorongoro Crater itself, the enormous volcanic caldera in the area. A caldera is a natural formation resembling a large cauldron-like feature on big central volcanoes. These types of volcanic craters can measure from one kilometres to several kilometres in diameter, and they’re created when a red hot magma chamber empties, forming the depression in the earth either through a very large explosive eruption or by erosion and collapse of the magma chamber roof.
The Ngorongoro Crater formed when a huge volcano exploded, collapsing into itself between two to three million years ago. The crater is 610 metres or 2000 feet deep with steep forested walls, and the sweeping grassy floor of the crater spans 260 square kilometres or 100 square miles. Some estimate the original volcano was anywhere between 4,500 to 5,800 metres (14,800 to 19,000 feet) high.
What is the Ngorongoro Conservation Area?
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area encompases a region that reaches beyond the Ngorongoro Crater, across the rolling grasslands and all the way to the borders of the Serengeti, covering a total of 8,094.4 square kilometers or 3,125.3 square miles. The conservation area includes the crater and the world renowned famous archaeological site of Olduvai Gorge. The crater floor contains an alkaline brackish “soda lake” which is home to many species of animals and birds.
The Ngorongoro Crater’s name came from the Maasai people, and means “Gift of Life,” as the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is mainly populated by the Maasai. Based on the fossil evidence that has been excavated from
the Olduvai Gorge in the Ngorongoro Crater region, various hominid species have been living in this same region for over three million years. This means hominid species were probably in the area during the time of the great explosion that created the Ngorongoro Crater.
Ngorongoro Crater and the conservation area first came under protection and game preservation in 1921, when the first game preservation ordinance was passed, restricting hunting to permit holders only, throughout the area of Tanzania. Then come 1928 hunting became prohibited in all of the land within the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, save for the former Siedentopf farms. After years of difficulties securing which areas were protected, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and the land it contained became known as multi-use and unique in that it allows human habitation within the conservation area. The land use is controlled in a way that allows cultivation to occur only as a means of subsistence. The Maasai graze and water their cattle in the crater during the daytime, and leave at night.
The Wildlife of Ngorongoro Conservation Area
There exist approximately twenty five thousand larger animals – mainly ungulates – living in Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding Ngorongoro Conservation area. Ungulates are essentially hooved herbivorous animals, in this case the Cape Buffalo, Wildebeest, Common Eland, the Thompson’s Gazelles, Waterbucks, and Zebra. There are also the critically endangered Black Rhino, lions, elephants, hippopotamus, hyenas, servals and a host of other smaller creatures and beautiful birds living in the Ngorongoro Crater. It is said that some 400 to 600 species of birds are living in the conservation area. Rarely seen are Cheetah, African Wild dogs and leopards, but they do exist in the area. The Ngorongoro Crater is home to one of the densest lion populations on earth, however their fate is at the mercy of the crater itself. The natural formation essentially prevents any new lions from entering the area.
What to expect on a tour of Ngorongoro Crater, and Ngorongoro Conservation Area:
So you’ve made up your mind – you’d love to see The Big Five, and Ngorongoro Crater is the perfect place to start stamping your safari passport because it’s such a great opportunity to see so many different African animals in one
trek. It’s open year round, safari tours are plentiful and professionally conducted, lodgings are plentiful, and there are several interesting activities to do. The Ngorongoro Crater is arguably one of the continent of Africa’s most famous safari destinations.
When to visit Ngorongoro Crater?
Trying to decide what time of year would be the best to pack your bags for a safari trip to Ngorongoro Conservation Area? Well don’t worry – luck is on your side with this part of the planning. You don’t have to stress about the perfect time to go, because the Ngorongoro Crater is full of activity the whole year round. The game remain inside the Ngorongoro Crater all year, making any time of year a decent time to come visit the conservation area on a safari. The only recommendation is that it might be more enjoyable to visit during the low season, as the Ngorongoro Crater does become busy with vehicles. However the higher water levels in Lake Magadi, located at the centre of the Ngorongoro Crater, almost guarantee larger numbers of beautiful flamingoes. So no matter what time of year works best for you, Ngorongoro Crater will have fabulous sights in store.
What game will you be viewing on a typical safari in Ngorongoro Crater?
It’s well known that Ngorongoro Conservation Area is the most favoured place in Tanzania for viewing The Big Five: The African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard, and the Black or White Rhinoceros. A good population of the black rhino thrive in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, as do some of the largest tusker elephants left in the world
These two are at the top of most safari lists, as they are endangered species and are impressive to witness. The Ngorongoro Crater is also home to a large population of lion, many cheetah and hyena, along with magnificent herds of wildebeest, zebra, and buffalo. While touring Ngorongoro Crater you can also spot serval cat, jackal, cheetah, as well as Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, and the unique looking bat eared fox! There are between 400 and 600 species of bird that can be found in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, including flamingoes. It is this reason that Ngorongoro Crater is a very popular place to go on safari – you know you’ll see so many different amazing types of African animals!
What types of activities are offered in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area?
While activities within the perimeter of the Ngorongoro Crater itself are limited to game viewing only, there are several picnic areas within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and a host of other exciting activities. There are hiking opportunities, different trekking options, and excursions to Olduvai Gorge, as well as visits with the Maasai.
- Olduvai Gorge: Known by some as the “cradle of humankind”, and famous for it’s natural beauty as well as for the human evolution evidence it has provided, Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge is an irresistible must-see if you’re in the Ngorongoro Crater region. It can also be called Oldupai, the gorge’s official name since 2005. Mary and Louis Leakey were the ones to first discover the evidence here of some of the oldest known human species, and there are excavations continuing to this day. One of the Leakey sons in fact found a fossil fragment of the first human species here in 1960. It’s possible to come see the areas where the digs are ongoing, and you’ll need a guide. Tours area available to come to Olduvai Gorge all year round.
- Maasai: You can arrange for a guide to take you to the Maasai village between Ngorongoro and Serengeti, which can come to around $50 per car. The Maasai can show you their traditional customs, and often sell jewelry which is part of how they make their living. You will learn about their lifestyle – traditional and modern – and the ways they continue living in the area. You will see their homes, their way of life.
Where to stay? Accommodations in the Ngorongoro Crater:
When trying to decide exactly where you and your group want to rest your head while visiting the Ngorongoro Crater and surrounding Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the questions is whether you’d like to remain right on the crater rim or be located farther out in the Ngorongoro highlands.
The location on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater is called the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, and is undoubtedly the most ideal lodging option if you have the budget for it! The whopper of a nightly visit is roughly $1800 per person. There are also the Serena and the Sopa located along the Ngorongoro Crater rim, offering breathtaking views of the Ngorongoro Crater floor at a much more affordable price. They are larger and older hotels.
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge
An impressive, romantic accommodation with fascinating views of the Ngorongoro Crater, it’s best accessed by aircraft arriving at the Manyara airstrip which is a one hour drive to the lodge. The Crater Lodge is made up of three different camps that are isolated from each other, Camp North, Camp South, and Camp Tree. The main communal area is very ornate with massive windows, incredible views, grand chandeliers, and open log fires.
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
Situated along the rocky rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, you can find these accommodations wrapped in the
morning mists, hidden in river stone, and draped in indigenous creeping vines. The Ngorongoro Serena Safari lodge has been sensitively constructed so as to offer breathtaking scenic views of the vastness of the beautiful Ngorongoro Crater while taking nothing from the environment in terms of atmosphere and natural settings. The buildings that make up the lodge are created in clusters of boulders linked by rope lashed timber walkwaks alongside the roots of the ancient liana-hung trees. You’ll have WiFi included, and there will be a laundry service and a restaurant. Try viewing the sun rise over the Ngorongoro Crater from your balcony! A sight you’ll remember forever.
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is a larger hotel featuring 97 rooms, and is considered to have the best actual view of the Ngorongoro Crater itself. The Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge is a good place to stay if you’re watching your budget. You can fly in to Manyara airstrip an hour’s drive away, or drive in three and a half hours from Arusha. An aging hotel, the Ngorongoro Sopa situates itself around a grand glass-fronted central atrium overlooking a swimming pool, and it features a lounge and restaurant. It does have a good reputation and there are often central open fires burning creating a warm ambience. Each room is clean, warm and spacious. Sit in the glass fronted verandah with a meal and enjoy the sun setting over the beautiful Ngorongoro Crater below.
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